John Naughton: Behind the Screen review – inside the social media sweatshops

Sarah T Roberts’s vital new study demonstrates how online content moderation is a global industry that operates on the back of human exploitation

“All human life is there” used to be the proudest boast of the (mercifully) defunct News of the World. Like everything else in that organ, it wasn’t true: the NoW specialised in randy vicars, chorus girls, Tory spankers, pools winners, C-list celebrities and other minority sports. But there is a medium to which the slogan definitely applies – it’s called the internet.

The best metaphor for the net is to think of it as a mirror held up to human nature. All human life really is there. There’s no ideology, fetish, behaviour, obsession, perversion, eccentricity or fad that doesn’t find expression somewhere online. And while much of what we see reflected back to us is uplifting, banal, intriguing, harmless or fascinating, some of it is truly awful, for the simple reason that human nature is not only infinitely diverse but also sometimes unspeakably cruel.

A key question is whether the moderation task is ultimately a futile, sisyphean one

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